This is the deepest and most decisive thing we can know about Him, and in answering the questions which it prompts we are starting from a basis of experience.
He is the gift of God to men, not the offering of men to God, and God gives himself to us in and with him. We owe to him all that we call divine life. On the other hand, this divine visitation is made, and this divine life is imparted, through a life and work which are truly human.
The presence and work of Jesus in the world, even the work of bearing sin, does not prompt us to define human and divine by contrast with each other: there is no suggestion of incongruity between them.
Nevertheless, they are both there, and the fact that they are both there justifies us in raising the question as to Jesus’ relation to God on the one hand, and to men on the other.
So the work of Christ, particularly as an explanation of the Incarnation, must occupy us here. Only after that will we be free to survey Christ’s work more comprehensively.
The reason for the incarnation
Why God became man deals with the question of the incarnation. The answer is a carefully thought-out statement of the atonement.
God became man in Christ because only one who was both God and man could achieve our salvation.
We have already noted that it reveals the value set by God upon human life. Life is declared to be valuable by the creation alone, but sin has cheapened life.
The incarnation, coming in a history of human sin, indicates that God has not abandoned us but loves us and values us even in our fallen state.
The incarnation does two further things. It shows us that God is able to understand us and sympathise with us, which is an inducement to come to him in prayer.
And the incarnation also gives an example of how a person ought to live in this world. The Apostle Peter refers even to the crucifixion in such terms: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
But the atonement is the real reason for the Incarnation. The author of Hebrews affirms this clearly.
“It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,” as it is written of me in the roll of the book’” (Hebrews 10:4-7).
The writer then adds that when Jesus says he is coming to do God’s will, that will must be understood as the providing of a better sacrifice. “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
We find the same emphasis elsewhere. In its derivation the name Jesus (“Jehovah saves”) looks forward to the atonement:
“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus himself spoke of his coming suffering (Mark 8:31; 9:31), linking the success of his mission to the crucifixion: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John. 12:32).
At several places in John’s Gospel the crucifixion is spoken of as that vital “hour” for which Christ came.
(To be continued)